Performer, teacher, motivator: A tribute to Norfolk's very own 'piano man'
- Credit: Archant Library/Bill Darnell
He is the perfect subject for Through the Decades… a man who has spent his life teaching and entertaining us.
Today I want to pay tribute to the one and only “Master of Music” Mr Tony Ireland.
Oh, and in more recent times he has been an “Old Codger.”
As time passes we often think about our teachers and the role they played in our young lives.
Well, SIR - sorry, Tony - inspired and encouraged generations to take an interest in music, and when he wasn’t teaching he was playing the piano at events, large and small across the region.
I caught up with Tony, now aged 87, and living the quiet life by the sea in Overstrand with his wife Miriam where they were continuing to entertain others until the pandemic hit.
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The author of two great books about his life and times, Tony must have played at just about every venue in Norfolk and many over the border in Suffolk.
Our very own “piano man” was born in 1933 and christened at St Matthew’s Church in the parish of Thorpe Hamlet and following the end of the war went to Norwich School.
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Music always played a major role in his young life. Nina Warmoll, of Maud Street, Norwich, taught him to play the piano. He developed into a top-class pianist and was part of so many bands over the years and was sought-after as a solo performer.
From schools to prisons and from concert halls to pubs. You name it. Tony played there…
Tony was a regular in the Evening News and Eastern Daily Press as his reputation grew and when he wasn’t playing the piano he was teaching music at Thorpe Hamlet School in Norwich from 1965 to 1989.
“My retirement marked the end of a 35-year career which had seen the heights and depths, the delights and tragedy, the years of watching young people grow into splendid musicians,” he said.
As Tony told me the other day: “Musicians, it is said, never retire, they just go from bar to bar.”
In more recent times he and his friends played at the Nelson Hotel and the Fox Inn at Hevingham before transforming into The Old Codgers. There was Ivan Tooes, Ernie Burrell, Denis Payne, Dick Pearce and Tony with his keyboard.
This was top-class jazz and great musicians such as Hilton Tait, Annie Slater and Pete Oxborough joined their ranks.
They played around the county, often helping to raise money for so many charities and good causes.
But time took its toll, Tony and Miriam, by now living at Cromer, moved to Overstrand to “retire” – then came the musical comeback.
This time with the Community Choir, formed by the super-charged Susie Thomson. Then he joined the Mick Murphy to play with Bats in the Belfry at the former Overstrand Junior School.
They joined the music section of the Cromer Society, putting on performances and went as a duo to rest homes and lunch clubs.
“On reflection my wife and I have enjoyed the past 15 years of living in north Norfolk, meeting many new friends and enjoying our musical interludes.
“Despite ups and downs, disappointments and even Coronavirus, we’ve been fortunate to make our latter retirement by the sea in Overstrand,” he said.
We have much to thank him for.
Tony has written two books. S’Wonderful: A Symphony of Musical Memories in 2001 followed up by ‘SMarvellous: More Musical Memories in 2003. They are a joy to read and are still available online from Bittern Books. Great reads. You may even feature in them.